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Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Knowing Your Character

A few of my stories feature characters that, culturally speaking, I had to get to know before I started writing about them. One, Kari from "Desert Ghosts", is a modern-day Hopi Indian girl who goes into the desert to find her Hopi name. Behind her quest for a traditional name is her desire to find out what happened to her father, who left Kari and her mother when she was a small child.  I read several books about the Hopi culture, their traditions and beliefs. I felt, after reading these books, that I had only scratched the surface of Hopi culture, but my story was not specifically about that, it was about a young girl in search of her identity. The Hopi setting in Arizona was simply a different and, I felt, interesting change for readers. I became enthralled with the Hopi people and their history. I could "see" the small, wood-frame house where Kari, her mother, and her grandmother lived. I could "see" Kari and her daily life. I felt her anguish as she looked out over the vast, empty desert trying to find some sign of her absent father. And I felt her desire to find out about her ancestors - how they lived and worshiped.

In my story Kari and her grandmother trek together into the desert. Kari has dreams there - dreams of her ancestors, their ceremonies and ritual dances. It was colorful and frightening to her. But when we look to the unknown past in our lives, isn't it just a bit frightening? After all, we don't know what we'll find. What if the things we discover about our ancestors are horrible? Yet, the curiosity is there, and most of us at some point in our lives, search for those who went before us - to find our name, so to speak.

Kari survives her quest. But what she finds and loses in the desert, changes her life forever. We all travel into our own desert to try and find answers to our questions. Young people are, whether they realize it or not, on a personal quest to find their names. I only hope my story "Desert Ghosts" can help them find their way.